Last week, Out Motorsports — an organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting members of the LGBTQ+ community that love cars and racing — announced its first-ever scholarship program. For two events in 2022, Out Motorsports will offer $600 to five different competitors who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the cost of attending one of the organization’s trackcross events. The goal? To get as many new faces at the track as possible.
To mark the beginning of the new chapter in Out Motorsports’ career, Jalopnik sat down with co-founder Jake Thiewes to chat about the complex intersection of LGBTQ+ and gearhead identities in a world that’s largely inhabited by straight, cisgender, white men. This scholarship is designed to get some new faces out to the track.
Last year, Out Motorsports hosted its first-ever trackcross day at Summit Point Motorsports Park. Basically, these events ask you to bring a car — any car, including your daily driver, track car, or buy a $1,500 car to join the Cheap Car Challenge — out to the track for a day of on-track and autocross activities. There are several different classes, and each Cheap Car Challenge has a different theme — like this year’s Favorite Family Haulers theme — to keep things fun and competition close.
The two-day event itself costs $299, so Out Motorsports’ scholarship will not only help cover the cost of registration but can also make a big impact on flights, lodging, and equipment rentals.
To put it pretty simply, Thiewes was impressed by the turnout of Out Motorsports’ first trackcross day, but he recognized that a lot of folks couldn’t attend for plenty of reasons — racing is, after all, a bit of a financially prohibitive sport.
“This came from the idea of trying to continue to break down barriers and barricades,” Thiewes said, this time referring to the financial barriers that keep people from competing in motorsport. “I’ve been in amateur motorsports since 2008. I was in college at the time, and even at the cheapest level of doing auto cross... it can still be kind of gatekeep-y and expensive if you’re on a tight budget.
“So we were driving back from an event, me and a couple friends who have been really key in planning these event in the past, we’re talking about it. And one of them said, ‘Hey, well, what if we could put together a scholarship program and just support a few people and tell them that if they get there, we could have them covered’?
“There’s a certain amount of cost in hosting these things, and I can’t make it cheaper than by waving a magic wand. This is the next best thing.”
There are undoubtedly people in this world who wonder why it’s so important to open up spaces for the queer community in the motorsport world — which is a question I tried to answer in my last interview with Thiewes.
To put it simply, identity shouldn’t matter, but in a lot of places, it still does. If you think about one of the commonly used terms for a gearhead — car guy — it comes with plenty of connotations about who can fit under that umbrella. As a woman, I wouldn’t fit under that umbrella. Queer folks also generally deviate from that umbrella.
That’s not to say those folks aren’t welcome at the average track day. It just means there are added barriers to being totally, authentically yourself.
That said, Thiewes stressed that Out Motorsports’ goal isn’t to deny anyone access because they aren’t queer. Instead, he wants to open up motorsport opportunities to anyone who hasn’t felt comfortable at a more traditional autocross or track day.
“Look at how certain sanctioning bodies like NASA or SCCA or GRIDLIFE promote their events,” Thiewes said. “The events themselves, once you’re there, are generally welcoming and friendly to everybody. I and a lot of other people who identify as queer in some way have gone to these events, have had a great time, and been met with minimal to zero backlash or anything negative.
“But if you objectively step back and look at how all those events are promoted, they do not appear inclusive to a substantial portion of the population. What they show is cisgender, straight, older white men. If you’re lucky, they might show cisgender straight younger white men.”
“So it’s not even the fact that we’re doing something different for the queer community. It’s just that we’re creating a space that’s an event hosted by people who identify as something other, and we are actively targeting those people first and saying if you are that cis straight white guy, we would love to have you, too, as long as you’re not a jerk.”
Thiewes estimates that one quarter to one third of the drivers who showed up for 2021's trackcross event were straight, cisgender men — something that he encourages because it creates an environment of camaraderie that he didn’t “know if you’d necessarily get on the surface from some other sanctioning bodies.”
The $600 provided by Mazda, Toyota, and Michelin is only part of the scholarship. At the time of our chat, Hawk Performance, Motul, OG Racing, and Grease Monkey Gloves had all committed to the event in some way — and there were other companies that are still looking into how they’d like to contribute, whether that’s financially or with a prize of some sort.
“Hawk Brakes is giving away what they call Hawk Bucks, which is basically gift certificates that we can give to some podium finishers,” Thiewes said. “So that’s like $1,300 of prizes there.
“More exciting, Motul, the oil and associated fluids company, they are sending some swag, but they are also giving a $100 to every registered driver for each event. So they’re giving you a gift certificate to buy oil or coolant or power steering fluid or whatever for your car to get it prepped for the event.
“And we have OG Racing, which is a local safety equipment supplier, and they’re doing deals on helmet rentals and helmet purchases. And they’re also supporting our Saturday night awards dinner.
“And Toyota? They’re going to try and give away some NASA memberships as prizes, too.”
To put things quite simply, Out Motorsports has taken its down-home roots — the site, after all, quite literally started because two people decided to chronicle the way their automotive and queer identities intersected — and turned it into something so much bigger, something that can reach a larger audience. And now, Out Motorsports is able to give back to the larger community.
I asked Thiewes if he’d seen anyone use an Out Motorsports trackcross day as a jumping-off point to attend other automotive events. He wasn’t sure, but he did say that “this has definitely lit a spark with a lot of folks.
“What’s interesting is I know there are definitely some people who are not competitive otherwise, including one of my friends just kind of on the planning committee for this. And they may not go on to do motorsport with other people, but they are already shopping for a car for this year’s challenge. They’re already excited to come back and compete.”
Thiewes pointed out the fact that, because so many participants are newer, there’s a greater sense of friendship and kindness, and not so much cutthroat competition; before events, people are sharing tips on how to best set up their cars and are asking for help to solve problems they can’t fix.
“I remember when I was just starting out with all these different types of motorsport that I’ve done,” Thiewes said. “And there are certain things I haven’t done where if I went, like if I went ice racing, I would not know what to do when I got there. So I try to keep that in mind. How did I feel?
“And I think what’s so fun when you have so many new people is that everyone’s kind of clueless. So the atmosphere is just so laid back because everyone’s there to have fun first and foremost.”
This is just the beginning for Out Motorsports. As Thiewes told me, the group aims to introduce races in other parts of the country — or to at least be able to fly out a few racers to compete on the East Coast if possible. Whatever happens, though, he wants to continue offering the scholarship.
He stressed to me that Out Motorsports is all set with scholarship costs — but anyone looking to donate to the company for other reasons (such as to help provide lunch to all the competitors), you can send a few dollars to @OutMotorsports. You can also show your support by nabbing some Out Motorsports goodies or by becoming an Out Motorsports member.
And if you want to head to an Out Motorsports event, it’s open to everyone of all identities. Registration for the first trackcross event of the year is available here, with the scholarship available here. That event runs from May 7-8, 2022. You can register for the second event, which runs from Oct. 8-9, 2022 here. Scholarship information will be available closer to the rally. Both events are located at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.